Two states have legalized cannabis and 17 states (18 including Washington, D.C.) have legalized medical cannabis. As the nation slowly shifts towards decriminalization, numerous questions arise on how to regulate and police cannabis fairly and responsibly. Michigan’s Supreme Court recently acted as a guinea pig on one matter: driving under the influence of cannabis.
Last Tuesday, the court overturned a previous appeals court decision regarding a Michigan man who was caught driving more than 30 miles over the speed limit and had tested positive for having cannabis in his bloodstream. The driver, Rodney Koon, had a state-issued medical cannabis card but was hit with the state’s “zero-tolerance drug policy provision.” However, the Supreme Court noted that “the MMMA shields registered patients from prosecution for the internal possession of marijuana.”
Since legalizing cannabis, whether for medical purposes or simple private use, is delving into uncharted territory, it’s difficult to say how much cannabis in the user’s system is enough to cause impairment when operating a motor vehicle. The state’s highest court acknowledged that uncertainty with the following statement:
“While we need not set exact parameters of when a person is ‘under the influence,’ we conclude that it contemplates something more than having any amount of marijuana in one’s system and requires some effect on the person.”
Therefore, Mr. Koons should not have been cited with a DUI in addition to his speeding infraction simply because he had some cannabis in his system without knowing exactly how much creates a driving impairment. Until studies have been conducted and a consensus is reached, cannabis DUIs are very much a gray area.
Michigan obviously isn’t the only state that will run into this issue. Both Colorado and Washington are drafting up cannabis laws and regulations based on some research, legal counsel, and a lot of guesswork, since no other state has yet paved the way in how cannabis should be reasonably dealt with. Other states will surely be paying attention to both Colorado and Washington as well as the recent Michigan Supreme Court ruling as to how cannabis DUIs should be handled.
In the meantime, cannabis users would be wise to err on the side of caution and exercise good judgment when deciding to get behind the wheel. Until clearer guidelines for cannabis laws are sorted out, drivers should always be aware that the possession of a medical cannabis card or authorization has absolutely no impact on shielding a person from a DUI.